Just a few thoughts on tomorrow's big game.
Most of the experts are picking Utah (Just look at all the bowl predictions - a large majority have the Utes in a BCS bowl). They seem to be the easy choice. This makes me a little nervous. I think that BYU relishes and finds motivation from the fact that they are the underdog. I would almost prefer Utah being the underdog, but I don't think it really matters either way.
Utah and BYU always match up pretty evenly. This year will be no different. Here's my opinion on how the teams match up:
Quarterbacks - BYU:
I don't think that I would switch Johnson for Hall, but I admire Hall's consistency and accuracy. He has played solidly almost every game. Both quarterbacks have the ability to lead a game-winning drive at the end of a game. Johnson probably does this best.
Runningbacks - Utah:
Utah effectively uses two backs that would start on almost every team in the conference. Utah's yards per carry average is almost 1/2 yard. Another difference maker here is that Utah's 3rd and 4th string backs have the speed to get to the outside. They are often used on end-arounds and when the Utes want to get the ball outside the tackles.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends - BYU:
This is BYU's strongest position. Utah will give up a big pass play here and there, but they have pretty solid coverage overall. I don't see Collie destroying the Utes (because he will mainly be defended by Utah's speediest player). Pitta, if he's healthy, could probably walk all over Utah though. They just don't have anybody that can match up with him size-wise. The Utes will give up a couple of big plays to these guys, but hold them in check otherwise.
Offensive Line - Even:
Before the TCU game (for both teams) I would have given this one to BYU hands down. But, BYU gave up a bunch of sacks to TCU and Utah's line played its best game of the season against TCU. Jerry Hughes (one of the best defensive linemen in the country) was held in check all game by the Utes. The more time either Johnson or Hall has to make a play, the more the defense is going to pay for it.
Defensive Line - Utah:
This is one position where Utah really shines. You don't become a top-10 team against the run without a strong defensive line. For the first-half of the year, Paul Kruger led the nation in tackles for loss (and Koa Misi wasn't far behind). Jorgenson is good - but he would be playing behind either one of these guys.
Linebackers - Even:
I think it's hard to compare the linebacking ranks between the two teams because they both play different defensive schemes. The linebackers are more involved for BYU with their 3-4 scheme while they play a big part of Utah's run defense in Utah's 4-3 scheme.
Cornerbacks/Safeties - Utah:
Utah wins this one in a landslide. If they're smart, Johnson will try and test the corners early. Sean Smith has as many interceptions as the whole Cougar secondary. Every team that BYU has played from TCU on has tried to exploit BYU's secondary because they rarely match up with speed and athleticism. If Utah gets the long ball going it could be a long night for the Cougars (but don't worry, Johnson stinks at throwing the long ball).
Special Teams - Utah:
Utah leads the nation in touchbacks (and I realize that BYU is 3rd). Neither team has been very consistent on punt returns, but the real key here is All-American punter/kicker Louie Sakoda. Utah has the best kicking duo in the country.
Coaches - Even:
You won't convince me otherwise on this one. Bronco's an awesome coach with 3 more wins than Kyle. Kyle, has a better record against BCS schools while Bronco has conference championships. Both coaches are the top 2 first-job hires from 2005. This year, Kyle Whittingham wins coach-of-the-year.
I'm excited for the game. On paper the Utes win, but I only give them 3:2 odds of winning. I expect that the difference in the game will be Utah's speed on defense. TCU exploited BYU and almost every team since that game has been able to keep it close. If this wasn't a rivalry game these things would matter. As it is, I expect the game to be decided by less than 1 score - and possibly by whichever team has the ball as time expires.